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Home / Photography / Point-and-shoot Cameras

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS Review

By Mike Perlman, Friday 11 March 2011
The highly-anticipated Canon PowerShot SX230 HS has landed in the infoSync labs. Read the full review here.

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS Report

Canon has been hard at work enhancing the wildly popular PowerShot SX210 IS. Meet the company's first ever GPS-enabled camera, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS. HS you say? That's right, Canon stuffed one of their signature HS (High Sensitivity) CMOS sensors in the new SX230 HS for improved low light performance. The company also equipped the SX230 HS with the ability to record 1080p HD video, boosted the LCD pixel count, added a few image effects, and jacked the price up by 50 bucks. We requested many of the these alterations in our SX210 IS review, and Canon delivered. Is the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS worth the boost in Hamiltons? Read our full review to find out.

Canon PowerShot SX230 HSCanon PowerShot SX230 HSCanon PowerShot SX230 HSCanon PowerShot SX230 HSCanon PowerShot SX230 HS


We asked for a wraparound shutter button zoom toggle in place of the minute tab found on the SX210 IS, and Canon answered with, drumroll, a wraparound shutter button zoom toggle on the SX230 HS! Aside from that ergonomic improvement, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is almost architecturally identical to its predecessor, and we were fortunate enough to receive the highly attractive electric blue model. However, upon further investigation, you'll find that Canon placed an emphasis on organization for 2011. The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS receives a larger roster of controls on the Mode Dial.

Instead of clumping the Image Effects with the Scene Modes, Canon added two separate categories within the Mode Dial. Needless to say, it was much easier to find shooting modes on the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS. The camera also received a boost in LCD pixels on its 3-inch widescreen display, from an inferior 230,000 dots to a more suitable 461,000-dot picture. The more refined LCD quality aided in magnified focusing, and really improved out shooting experience. Other than the pronounced GPS sensor hump and relocated Power button, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS was built with the same automatic pop-up flash, touch-sensitive rear control panel/dial, and HDMI/AV Out terminals as the SX210 IS.

In fact, both cameras are nearly identical in size and weight, so don't expect any alterations in the portability department. The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS supports SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, just like the SX210 IS, but it adds Eye-Fi Card support for wirelessly transferring pictures to your computer. Overall, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS receives minimal design improvements when compared to the internal overhaul addressed throughout the next few sections.

Shooting Features

As we saw with the SX210 IS, the SX230 IS is festooned with shooting features that most point-and-shooters will not know what to do with. But that's part of this camera's allure—the ability to learn and push the boundaries of the basics of photography. The Canon PowerShot SX230 IS receives a few low light-friendly feature enhancements, thanks to its new HS CMOS sensor. First of all, you'll notice that the max ISO setting is 3200, while the Low Light Scene Mode gets an ISO 6400 cap, compared to the SX210 IS's 1600/3200 caps. Also, you'll notice that the Canon PowerShot SX230 IS does not allow you to set the ISO past 100 when shooting with any shutter speed that is slower than 1 second. This is most likely to minimize exaggerated noise during long exposure shooting, but we felt a bit limited with this restriction.

Aside from low light-geared improvements, the Canon PowerShot SX230 IS also receives the new Toy Camera and Monochrome effects to add to the Image Effects menu. Video mode gains the Super Slow Motion mode, which can only be shot at 320 x 240 for the maximum 240fps to take hold. These are welcome additions to the PowerShot SX230 HS's feature set, though most of the Monochrome settings can be achieved by using the My Colors menu. Let's also talk about the new GPS system. It won't work indoors, and takes quite a while to find a satellite. However, when it works, it works well. There's even a Maps program that tracks every GPS-laden image or video by displaying their coordinates on a Google map, allowing you to see all of the locations you visited on that Europe vacation. One imperative precaution is that if you leave GPS Logging on, it will drain the camera's battery, even when you power off. Ask us how we know.

We will say that the Canon PowerShot SX230 IS is blazing fast when it comes to menu navigation and control. In Auto mode, the AF works flawlessly, shifting from AF tracking to multi-pane to Macro, based on the shooting environment. AF Zoom allowed us to check defined edges via a magnified box in the middle of the screen, just like in MF mode, and for the first time, Canon's improved screen resolution made MF actually useable. We could choose from four different aspect ratios to shoot in, and the camera gave us the full Manual, TV, AV, and Program AE treatment as well. The only thing we weren't crazy about was the PowerShot SX230 HS's aperture range, which spanned from f/3.1-f/8.0. With an f/2.0 aperture, the PowerShot SX230 HS might be unstoppable. In other news, the camera's 14x optical zoom was stellar, and we got a 28mm wide-angle pane for additional composition. For a point-and-shoot, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is one well-equipped machine.

Still Image Quality

At the core of the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS lies a 1/2.3-inch 12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor that bears Canon's HS logo. This means that the sensor is positioned optimally to receive as much light as it can and teams up with Canon's Digic 4 processing. Canon actually went down from the SX210 IS's 14.1-megapixel sensor to the more conservative 12.1-megapixel sensor in order to boost the size of the pixels a tad for better light gathering capability. However, this is the same sensor found on all of the new PowerShots, so the SX230 HS really doesn't stand out. You'd think that we'd at least get a 1/1.6-inch sensor, or something larger, but we can only hope that the next iteration of the SX230 HS will make our wish come true.

We will say that compared to the SX210 IS, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS was an improvement, but not by a landslide. As usual, bright light shooting at low ISO levels produced some fantastic images, as evidenced in our samples below. However, we could still discern some of the typical purple fringing and sight vignetting that reminded us that we were shooting with a point-and-shoot sensor. However, one of the SX230 IS's primary strengths was its low light performance, which showed a highly impressive ability to manage noise into tiny particles. This is a camera that allows you to expose certain areas that other point-and-shoots wouldn't. The SX230 HS also has the new Handheld Night mode, which combines three exposures to give you the an image with more light, and of course there was the classic Low Light mode at 6400 ISO. This camera's ISO performance speaks for itself, and matches that of the Canon PowerShot Elph 300 HS we reviewed a few weeks ago.

Outdoors and Filters

Landscape, ISO 100, f/5.0, 1/320

Program AE, ISO 100, f/5.9, 1/125

Auto, ISO 250, f/5.0, 1/640

Program AE, ISO 100, f/5.0, 1/250

Program AE, ISO 100, f/4.0, 1/800

Program AE, ISO 100, f/4.0, 1/100

Program AE, ISO 100, f/4.0, 1/400

Program AE, ISO 100, f/4.0, 1/500

Program AE, ISO 100, f/5.9, 1/500

Program AE, ISO 100, f/3.1, 1/50

Program AE, ISO 800, f/3.1, 1/30

Program AE, ISO 100, f/3.1, 1/50

Toy Camera, ISO 320, f/3.1, 1/60

Color Accent, ISO 800, f/3.1, 1/30

Poster, ISO 800, f/3.1, 1/25

Super Vivid, ISO 100, f/4.0, 1/60

Low Light Shooting

Program AE, ISO 800, f/5.9, 1/60, Flash

Program AE, ISO 3200, f/4.0, 1/4

Program AE, ISO 1600, f/3.1, 1/30

Program AE, ISO 1600, f/3.1, 1/10

Manual, ISO 3200, f/4.0, 1-second shutter

Manual, ISO 100, f/4.0, 15-second shutter

Handheld Night, ISO 3200, f/4.0, 1/6

Low Light, ISO 6400, f/4.0, 1/15

Video Quality

The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS receives an upgrade to 1080p HD at 24fps. The results were good, and our ability to optically zoom while shooting video was clutch. Canon's Continuous Image Stabilization system performed excellently, keeping our videos still at full magnification. As far as the zoom motor noise, there were some videos that were devoid of any motor sound, yet others that exhibited a clearly audible motor sound. It was a crap shoot, but the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is far better off in that department than so many cacophonous zooms we've tested before. We did have a problem focusing, however. Sometimes the AF would take forever to latch onto a subject, especially in low light. It would be nice to be able to use the Shutter button to refresh the focus every now and again.

One thing we'd like to see is an evolution in the features department. Although we could shoot in Color Accent, Miniature, and Super Slow Motion, the camera only offered exposure settings. Compared to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7's video controls, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS has some catching up to do. We'd like to see the same controls offered in still image mode, and a zoom microphone. A video light would be nice too, but now we're getting stingy. One thing to look out for with the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is that its low light sensitivity is subpar, despite our attempts at Exposure adjustments. You'll need fairly adequate lighting if you expect to attain a decent video performance with the SX230 IS, but the good news is that its low light noise management is great.

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS - infoSync Diagnosis

We've been waiting quite some time for the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS, and most of its upgrades were met with open arms. We noticed a still image quality increase, thanks to the HS CMOS sensor, and low light shooting was a tad less daunting than it was in the past. We also like the new Image Effects, 461,000-pixel LCD, organized Mode dial, and shutter button zoom toggle. Canon met many of our demands from last year's PowerShot SX210 IS's review, just like we saw with the PowerShot Elph 300 HS.

However, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS still has a way to go. We liked the GPS function, but didn't really see a need for it, almost as if Canon tacked it on for the sake of competition. Also, video mode needs a little work, and the inability to shoot still images at an ISO level higher than 100 past a 1-second shutter speed was a bit discouraging for long exposure shooting. We'd like to see a larger sensor in this badboy, because it's got a plethora of camera controls for the point-and-shooter to learn on.

Is the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS worth it? If GPS, 1080p HD video, and a boost in low light sensitivity are your prime concerns, then yes, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is worth the extra 50 bucks. The Canon PowerShot SX210 IS is still a great camera, but the SX230 HS is more capable. The other option is the Canon PowerShot S95—boy would we like to see that sensor and f/2.0 aperture in the SX230 HS!
Name Score Price
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 84% $670
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 82% $600
Canon PowerShot G12 80% $500
Olympus E-P2 80%
Olympus E-PL1 80% $600

Name Score Price
Canon PowerShot S95 78% $400
Canon PowerShot SX230 HS 76% $350
Nikon Coolpix S9100 75% $330
Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS 74% $325
Nikon Coolpix S8100 74% $300

Name Score Price
Nikon D7000 89% $1200
Nikon D700 89% $3000
Pentax K-r 88% $800
Canon EOS 5D Mark II 88% $2700
Pentax K-7 87% $1300
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